NOTTINGHAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION 2013
PRIZES: 1st: £300 2nd: £150 3rd: £75 and Ten Merit Prizes of £10.00
Adjudicator: David Constantine
Closing Date: 14th August 2013
1. The competition is open to anyone aged 16 or over.
2. Poems should be in English, unpublished, not accepted or submitted for publication elsewhere, and must be your original work.
3. Poems should not be entered in any other competition, or have previously been a prizewinner in any other competition.
4. Poems should be no longer than 40 lines.
5. Each poem should be typed on a separate sheet of A4 paper, and must not bear your name or any other form of identification. On a separate sheet of paper list your name, address, titles of poems submitted, and where you heard about this competition. No application form necessary.
6. Entry fee: £3.00 per poem or £10.00 for 4 poems.
7. Any number of poems can be submitted on payment of the appropriate fee. Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to Nottingham Poetry Society. No stamps, foreign currency or Irish P.O’s accepted
8.Winners will be notified in September 2013
9. Prizes will be presented at a public adjudication in Nottingham on 26th October 2013. All prizewinning poems will be published on this website. The decision of the adjudicator is final.
10. Entries should be addressed to: The Competition Secretary, 38 Harrow Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 7DU
11. No entrant may be awarded more than one prize.
To request further details, please contact us .
NOTTINGHAM OPEN POETRY COMPETITION 2012 – RESULTS
The process of judging a poetry competition can feel like a bombardment: hundreds of poems all clamouring for attention, almost crying out Choose Me! I’m the poem you want! Choose me! It’s something of an emotional rollercoaster too: being suddenly sucked in to so many people’s lives, sharing their grief, heartbreak or regret.
The final whittling down from 568 poems to three winners and ten ‘poems of merit’ was like a blind-tasting: each poem identified only by a number, each to be tasted again and again to try to identify those with the fullest and most subtle flavour.
The judge has no idea who the poets are. All the poems are identified only with a number. But because some poets submit more than one poem and no one can win with more than one poem, the organiser identifies batches from one writer with a colour coding. So I know when I’m reading several poems by one poet, but not who those poem are by.
It does often help to be able to read a batch of poems by one poet, drawing more attention to that writer’s work, but also challenging you decide which poem to pick out over all the rest. This year’s first prize winner, who turned out to be Paul McMahon, sent in several poems, all showing him to be a writer wrestling with the lessons of a wide range of experiences of the world, and I must admit I was torn between the eventual winning poem, ‘Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, March 16th, 1988’ and ‘The river of forgetting’, another poem of memory about seeing a man give river burial to his dead child on the Ganges alongside the cremation fires of a burning Ghat: two very different funerals in one extraordinary place. In the end I found the Belfast poem more compelling, perhaps because its setting was more “ordinary”: not that cemeteries in Belfast during the Troubles were ordinary, but they are recognisable places to readers here. Paul’s poem describes his own experience of sheltering behind a gravestone as the loyalist gunmen Michael Stone attacked the funeral of three IRA members with grenades and gunfire. The poem doesn’t give that context – that three people were killed and nearly 60 people wounded – it concentrates on what he saw and experienced himself, as one person trapped among so many in that horrific incident, and is all the more powerful for being his own individual testament. It ends with his response to being thrown reluctantly into the dangerous limelight of the TV cameras and his need to escape from that too, which works as a kind of aftershock to what has gone before.
Second prize goes to a very different poem, ‘Relic’ by Roy Marshall, which reminded me of the work of the late Frances Horovitz. I especially liked the way this poem’s church imagery and tightly worked musicality evoke an awareness of mortality. It is a beautifully realised poem which summons up the rarity of a chance experience shared by father and son.
Two other very different poems share third place. I wanted both ‘Down by the River’ by Alan Dunnett and ‘For the Journey’ by Margaret Gleave to win third prize. The more I read both these poems, the more I felt unable to prefer one over the other, because they are both such strong poems. Both are highly original and beautifully balanced. Alan Dunnett’s ‘Down by the River’ describes a desolate place not directly but from the point of view of a corpse floating in the river – but paraphrase does little justice to a poem which does so much more than that, as you’ll see when you read the poem. In Margaret Gleave’s ‘For the Journey’, an 18th or 19th century Lakeland Poet travels to warmer parts, his suitcase carrying or becoming the poetry of his place and people. The way this very surprising poem works is not unlike that of the Turkish poet Edip Cansever’s talismanic poem ‘Table’ which I included in the anthologies Being Human and Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy. It is refreshing to read poems like these two by British poets which make the kinds of imaginative leaps I am only used to seeing in the work of European poets.
1st: Paul McMahon : Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, March 16th 1988
2nd: Roy Marshall: Relic
3rd: Alan Dunnet: Down by the River and Margaret Gleave: For the Journey
Merits: Ashleigh John, Denise Bennett, Joe Caldwell, Gillian Knibbs, Derek Taylor, Denise McSheehy, Martin Thorne, Kathleen Bell and Marcus Smith
First Prize: Paul McMahon
Milltown Cemetery, Belfast, March 16th, 1988
The last of the three coffins had just been lowered
when the first grenade exploded. I was blown twelve feet away
yet landed on my back unhurt. Over the PA a voice called out
to get down. The crowd of mourners and journalists broke up in panic,
scattering like debris. Some were gathering themselves from grave-plots -
underwater knells booming in the deep of their heads.
A woman was carried past, her head covered in blood.
Another grenade exploded. Pistol shots rang out and an overweight man
with black fuzzy hair and a thin beard, appeared out in front of the crowd,
holding a nine millimetre browning pistol in his right hand.
He then raised both hands triumphantly up into the air,
one fisted, one bepistoled, inciting the crowd to come on -
his mouth, muted by the din, fish-gasped inaudible insults
as he produced another grenade and lobbed it into the air.
The sea of people parted as it sank through the air and the dull sound
of the explosion lifted a cloud of dust into the overcast sky.
Film crews lay spread-eagled behind gravestones, women were screaming,
men were shouting, the gunman was smiling.
He began firing in a steady line across the crowd, from his left,
causing a sweeping domino effect, like a Mexican wave,
as the mourners ducked behind the headstones. I waited,
and then ducked as he levelled his pistol to me.
I held my face to the inscription on someone’s headstone,
their life surmised into two monumental dates,
as the wave fell away to my left with the gunshots tracing
its fatal arc after the falling crest.
Before I stood up, I stole a glance over the headstone.
The gunman had turned and was running towards the motorway
where a white RUC van was parked on the grass verge.
A large group of people chased after him – unarmed hares
bolting blindly after the greyhound.
The gunman stopped to turn and fire -
the people chasing him dodged their heads like boxers weaving fists.
The RUC van drove off. With no bullets left, no grenades,
exhausted, the gunman ran onto the deserted motorway
chased by three angry men.
At the graveside film crews scrambled out from behind
their protective tombstones, cameras rolling, frantic for interviews.
A tall, blond presenter for the BBC with her microphone held out like a pistol
turned to me and demanded: what did you see? As I turned away,
I told her what anyone from there, in those days, would say: “I saw nothing”.
Second Prize: Roy Marshall
I’d rather take this road
to that chapel of larch on the hill
but my boy insists, so we step
into a nave of pines
a vestry screened by webs
where sound falls dead
except for the rattle of cones.
Each breath is sealed with resin;
he finds a long bone
lifts it from the needles;
fox or maybe badger, I tell him
taking his hand
of our temporary skins.
Joint Third Prize: Alan Dunnet
Down by the River
The council claim the fish have returned
but you know otherwise. For you saw things
on the river bank which contributed
nothing to the officially clean
condition of the water. You saw things
as you came up beside them with hardboiled eggs
for eyes, given movement by the current,
open-mouthed, bathing beside rubbish.
You’d dropped down at Blackfriars Bridge
or were shot in the head by some lover,
someone who has a connection to you
at any rate. This is the way of your flesh.
This is your blood. Eat. Drink. Make your peace
with the pattern of lines that brought you to this.
Joint Third Prize: Margaret Gleave
For the Journey
He packed a shirt, coarse woollen socks,
shaving brush and pen; dark brandy,
pipe and a screw of opium.
Between his garments, he layered
sheets of clear water, damp green light,
purple shadows and snow-sharp mountains;
his broad northern vowels wrapped in brown paper.
He travelled south to unaccustomed sun.
From this scuffed, much-dented case, he would release
the music of lakes, hiss of polished ice;
lonely clouds, the water colour spill
of melt from those familiar hills.
One half of it is sky. Dark clouds
do not descend, shadows
do not rise up but rest
water-logged, in a might-have-been
from another time.
Roofs, sturdy brickwork
must have been here for ever
but, if you will, draw near.
Over the river’s shimmer
small smudges of people
are up against walls. They don’t matter.
Black and unmoving, barges float. Rust
never begins and ageing never ends.
Two women talk
of little things
here in this afterward
of no before.
Be safe. Pause in the frame. Know that
nothing has ever happened
and, if we stay here, nothing will.
For Ada aged 100
she came from
cart-ruts, fox-prints, rabbit tracks
set in red Devon earth,
from corn sheaves
sewn from seed-fiddle and plough,
poppies among the wheat crops;
from squabble and squawk
with brothers at the pump, gulping down
pure blue water,
from the scum of lace
on a Sunday dress, coolness of choir stalls
a soprano singing out her faith -
in later life displaced by cityscape
she still listens for the cows
lowing in the lane
Sheep pockmark the hillside,
blackbirds patrol the sky,
calling as if to ask
where the sun has gone, and why.
Wind whips round,
flecked with rain like spittle,
then hail like flak.
The car is distant;
it’s too dark to go forward,
and much too late to go back.
Twisting a little
When she told me her father was a psychoanalyst
I wondered, like any self-centred teen, what he would make
of me. We sat on the bed in orange light, music on.
He’s dead, she announced. For some unavoidable reason, I laughed.
So this wasn’t a flirty prelude to taking off clothes.
This was a test. Her eyes scrutinized my reaction, slow,
full of pain and warning: ‘if you thought this could be easy, think again’. I asked how he died. Did she want me
to pick at that wound? I found myself sitting at her feet
floundering, trying to climb out of my embarrassment.
She knew all about agony. For us, this would be just
the start. Later she told me love had to be agony.
I can’t remember if we took off our clothes. It was more
about reaching under the skin and twisting a little.
An Occasion For Being Human
after Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
The necks have it -
and the open mouths
the poor dear teeth
the terrible crouch of fear
Such plain canvasses
colour of an angry sky
or a wound
No going back – we’re all there
at the foot of something
on our knees
Magdalen moving without arms
Now a soft bolt of body
little mother veiling her eyes
The lover caught
in his arched rictus
How they weigh – maimed
the loop of sweet line reeling you in
to your own heart
The pattern of rib printing skin
It had to be sublime, precise as the Dutch
but still suggestive of our blurred era
(though somehow more than an exact mirror).
He never discovered his exacting touch,
wavered between a super-real resolve
and slavish passion for loose-limbed charcoals,
his messy sketches guesses at vague souls
whose shaded obscurities stayed unresolved.
Perhaps that’s why I took his painting for
my empty wall, by now a chronic state
of emptiness that felt like a walled-in fate
after years of needing some kind of door.
When the power cuts came as they often did
in that world’s-end winter of ’47
the factory died like a gasping fish
thrown up on the river bank.
We were always taken by surprise
between four and six o’clock.
Followed, darkness, silence, resignation.
The shaftings stilled, machines unmurmuring,
half knitted nylon stockings
were left hanging like new-borns caught in birth.
In that blackness where nylon was no longer king knitters, seamers, linkers, toe stitchers,
drifted idly. But she always found me.
At her very first touch I was drained of strength.
At the end of an alley between still-life machines we would stand and stare three storeys down
at the dimmed street, slow headlamp beams.
Between the mumble of traffic, creaking rafters,
I breathed in the sweet scent of virgin nylon;
other than that I was powerless.
A single lily glistens on the beach
like milk-white silk among the mustard gorse
whose barbs stand guard against the spring tide’s reach
and picnickers’ relieving dogs and worse.
By day its petals timidly unfold
to free the fragrances it nourishes.
At night they cower from the haar. Though cold
and fragile yet it somehow flourishes.
And so I watch her from my cliff-top bench,
my headland hide, binoculars in hand
lest late-night lager revellers should wrench
this limpid blossom from the lonely sand.
For in the swirling eddies of self-worth
she’s found a haven and a summer berth.
Done fishing for the day, a solitary
cormorant skims over the rocks that jut
like rotten teeth from thick mud
edging a slate-grey Tyne. It lands softly
on a massive balk of waterlogged timber,
weed-roped remnant of some ancient wreck,
torn at by a spring tide ripping upriver
to the bustling town. Long neck outstretched,
and wings spread wide to catch the sallow
February sunlight, this bird might be an Angel
of the North in miniature; but polished metal
to its rust, lamp-black to its terracotta.
The Contributors 2012.